Un camp de réfugiés à Yida

Xavier Crombé was Director of Studies at MSF-Crash from 2005 to 2008. He is currently working at the Research Unit on Humanitarian Stakes and Practices (UREPH) of MSF in Switzerland to publish a collective essay dealing with issues related to violence in healthcare facilities. He is also teaching humanitarian and migration issues at Sciences Po Paris.  

Date de publication


This publication is the result of research undertaken, starting in April 2004, by the MSF Foundation think-tank, the Centre de Réflexion sur l'Action et les Savoirs Humanitaires (CRASH). The choice of occupation as a theme for study was motivated by the 2nd Intifada in the Palestinian Territories and the war being waged by the United States and its allies in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was also part of broader reflection on extreme situations in which humanitarian action risks losing its soul. The goal of this study was to assess whether occupation situations are, in essence, contexts in which all independent humanitarian action is doomed to failure or, at the very least, specific environments where this action is subject to particular constraints.

The difficulties that soon arose in defining the notion of occupation led to the decision to proceed in two stages. The topic of humanitarian action in situation of occupations was first addressed through a research paper focused on the experience and positions of the French section of MSF. This paper was completed in December 2005.

The second stage was a one-day conference organised at the MSF Paris office, in January 2006. This event gathered various representatives of the humanitarian community as well as a British military officer and several academics, historians and political scientists. Its goal was to submit the conclusions of the CRASH's study to a public debate and to confront different viewpoints on the notion of occupation and the situations considered as such.

This publication gathers together the two stages of this work. The first part is devoted to the study paper “Humanitarian action and occupation: the MSF viewpoint”. The second part is a summary of the presentations and debates held at the conference “Humanitarian action in situations of occupation”.

This publication does not aim to provide definite answers, let alone a list of good practices, regarding humanitarian action in situations of occupation. Its sole ambition is to offer some food for thought and to highlight the variety of points of view, which determine, for each actor in these situations, the perception of the issues at stake and the different ways to address them.

In order to facilitate its distribution and make it accessible to as many people as possible in the field and the other sections of the MSF movement, we have decided to publish this document in a bilingual format, in French and English.

We hope you find it useful.